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With the first half of the season in the rear view and the All-Star game quickly approaching, we are entering the point in the season where playoff races become the focus. We’re certainly not in the stretch run, however teams who are on the bubble or even on the outside of the playoff picture looking in may want to start playing desperate hockey as every point is so very valuable from here on out. All-Star weekend in Columbus is on the horizon as there will be a break from regular-season play beginning on Thursday. I will be getting picks out today, tomorrow, and Wednesday before the hockey world takes a breather while enjoying the festivities.
Let’s see what we have in store for this Monday night of hockey that features seven games.
Carolina Hurricanes @ Toronto Maple Leafs
My Pick – MAPLE LEAFS -.5 IN REGULATION (+110)
Two teams that sit outside of the playoff picture meet at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto as the Carolina Hurricanes will take on the struggling Maple Leafs. Toronto has just one victory since they made a coaching change despite playing some decent hockey. They just completed the ever-difficult West coast road trip while dropping a game in St. Louis on their way back home. Toronto managed just one goal in their four-game trip and despite playing better defensively, the results just haven’t followed. The good news for Toronto and their faithful tonight is the Carolina Hurricanes come in to town having won just five times on the road all season while scoring just 2.02 goals per game on the year. Also working in the Leafs’ favor is the fact they are averaging 3.6 goals per game on home ice. Combine that factor with the Leafs being way over due for an offensive breakout, and things could be tough on the visiting Hurricanes this evening. Toronto has won 14 of their last 19 games on home ice, most of which came earlier in the season as they have played a slew of road games thanks to Toronto playing host to the World Junior Championship. Their most recent victory came at home when they thumped the visiting Blue Jackets by a 5-2 score, showing exactly what I mentioned above, Toronto can score with the best of them on home ice. The Leafs top trio of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk have been largely held in check over their last nine games, however you can’t keep good hockey players like this down for very long and considering they have 43, 40, and 32 points this year respectively, it is only a matter of time before they break out and have a big game. The light scoring Hurricanes are lead in the points category by Eric Staal and Justin Faulk, who both sit with 26 on the season, displaying just how poor this offense can be. With the Leafs now limiting shots and due for a goal-scoring spree, I like them to get back on track this evening against the Hurricanes. Take Toronto to win this one in regulation and see if they can begin to make a push towards the postseason.